FilmL.A. Report: Feature, TV Production Down Dramatically in Past Two Decades

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Once dominant Southern California struggles to retain movie and TV productions as web work expands, and financial incentives lure work to other states and countries.

Over the past two decades there has been a huge decline in the number of movies and television dramas produced in the Los Angeles area, according to a new report.

Even though activity has rebounded somewhat in the past year or two - and new areas such as digital and web production have grown - there is a continuing shift from what researchers for FilmL.A. call "high value" work to "low value" work that creates fewer jobs and generates less revenue than what has been lost.

Read the Full Report Here

That is the overall impression from a new report on L.A. filming levels from 1993 through 2013 released Tuesday by the area’s regional film office, which covers both L.A. city and surrounding areas in L.A. country. The group helps with permits and tracks production outside of the major studio lots, often on the streets of the city.

 "Over the years, Los Angeles' attractiveness to feature and TV drama producers has diminished significantly," says the report. "A double-digit increase in 2013 nonetheless left local feature production 50 percent below its 1996 peak, and TV drama production 39 percent below its 2008 peak."

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In 1997, states the report, the majority of large-budget studio features were produced in California, and many of those were shot in L.A.

In contrast, last year just two of the year's live action movies with budgets above $100 million were filmed in the L.A. area. "Most local feature production is for small, independent projects that offer reduced employment and spending benefits," the study revealed.

The reason for the decline, as the report states, is first and foremost significant financial incentives and other kinds of production assistance offered by numerous countries – especially Canada – as well as more than 40 U.S. states.

Movie and television production bottomed out in 2009. That year FilmL.A. recorded 4,976 PPD (permitted production days, each a day on which one company and crew shot for one day). That compared to 1995 when feature work was at its peak with 9,393 PPD recorded.

Feature work rose to 6,972 PPD in 2013, still well below peak levels, and as the report points out, much of that was smaller pictures with lower budgets that employed fewer crew members and performers.

The report credits the small uptick since 2009 to the introduction of California’s Film & Television Tax Credit program, which makes $100 million available to qualified productions each year. Those that have received incentives include The Call, starring Halle Berry, the MTV series Teen Wolf and the upcoming Warner Bros. movie based on the cable TV series Entourage. 

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While California's annual tax incentives are lower than those offered by such states as New York, Louisiana and Georgia, the report says without it, things would have gotten worse instead of better.

"In 2013," says the report, "state-incentivized projects accounted for 9 percent (607 PPD) of total feature activity.

TV production picked up from 1993 through 2007 in part because of the growth of new cable channels, notes the report. The rise of reality TV also "benefited the Los Angeles television production economy."

TV production fell to an all time low in 2009 with just 15,933 PPD recorded, compared to 23,315 PPD in 2007.

Not all TV is created equally. The most important work an area can attract is TV pilots, because the show often is produced in the same place if picked up by a network; and drama pilots, which are usually hour shows that employ a lot of actors and large crews.

TV dramas fell from 6,736 PPD in 2008 to 3,533 in 2012, and rebounded slightly to 4,095 PPD in 2013.

TV pilot production fell from 1,599 PPD in 2006 to 795 PPD in 2012, and rose to 1,066 in 2013.

TV sitcoms have been one area that has remained strong for L.A. There were 1,617 PPD in 2005 and 2,222 in 2013.

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Web-based TV has also soared, although once again it is said to bring in less money for the area's economy. The amount of web related work rose from 386 PPD in 2008 to 1,725 in 2013.

FilmL.A. also has an "other" category that covers things like student film shoots and still photography which has been growing - but again are considered to be "lower value" production.

TV commercials also have continued to be a mainstay of activity in L.A. rising to 8,453 PPD in 2013, compared to 4,838 back in 1993.

"Where once L.A. reigned undisputed as the film production capital of the world," concludes the report, "now the region is but one place among a globe full of options that film, television and commercial producers can choose."